Catalina Island sits off the coast of California, lying within LA County. It was originally settled by the Pimuvit, who called the island Pimu. It has a history of trading ownership between Spain, Mexico, and the United States as well as for its use in illegal trades and activities such as smuggling. William Wrigley Jr turned the island into a tourist destination in the 1920s, and it was later taken over by the Catalina Island Conservancy in the 1970s.
We’ve lived in the Los Angeles area for over two decades and somehow never made it out to Catalina. Finally this year we went on a day trip with Catalina Express. We got to check out the main attractions on Avalon including Falconry, the Casino, and the Glass Bottom Boat. The second time around we decided to explore the island with the Catalina Island’s Eco Jeep Tour.
What You See
Catalina Island is most noted for its impressive ecosystem, a mixture of gifts from its various inhabitants over history. The Pimuvit people brought foxes to the island, the Spaniards brought mountain goats, the Wrigley family brought deer, and a movie producer in 1924 brought bison. Naturally, many who visit Catalina want to see this interesting wildlife and plant life.
We stopped in Catalina during our Carnival cruise. The ship itself doesn’t dock, as it is too large for the harbor, so we went to the island via tenders. We wanted to explore the island’s natural, wild areas. We also wanted to see the spectacular views from the hilltops and observe bison, foxes, and oversized squirrels up close. Therefore, we booked the conservatory’s Eco Jeep Tour.
The two to three-hour tour takes guests through the most remote, natural parts of Catalina Island as a guide discusses fascinating island history. We were dropped off in the same place that the Catalina Express boats dock. From here, our family walked to the offices on Clarissa Street, which took roughly ten minutes. Since we got there early, we stopped by the Lobster Trap Restaurant to sample their delicious lobster roll.
The Jeep Tour starts promptly at 12:30. We were seated with four other passengers in an open jeep with a top cover. At the time, the LA area had just experienced a month of rain. The grounds were covered in lush green which the guide explained would last until the end of May.
The tour itself consisted of a leisurely drive up a semi paved road to the local airport, nicknamed Airport in the Sky. Here, visitors can stop for a quick bit at the local DC-3 Restaurant.
We loved the beautiful scenery but unfortunately didn’t see much wildlife.
All we saw was a lone bison in a field and an old fox begging for table scraps outside DC-3. However, this might be due to the fact we took the shorter tour with a condensed route.
The jeep ride itself wasn’t too bumpy, especially for us sitting in the middle seat. The narrator was also engaging. However, it was relatively cold and two hours proved a bit too long for our son with autism.
Overall the trip was entertaining and a decent value for those interested in geology and ecology.
The two-hour tour is seventy dollars, while the three-hour tour is one hundred and nine dollars.
Autism Travel Tips:
- We recommend this trip for older kids only. Kids under six years of age are not allowed on the tour.
- They do offer blankets in the jeep, but these blankets are fuzzy which might cause problems for those sensitive to certain textures.
- Parents should bring blankets, jackets, hats, and ear muffs for their kids as it does get chilly, especially during winter.
- They offer the tour no matter what weather conditions. Parents should check the weather report before booking to avoid prices.
- The restrooms at Lobster Trap and DC3 were both incredibly clean.
- At the Airport in the Sky, kids can have fun watching small plans land and take off on the short runway.
- The Jeep Tour is offered in a three hour and two-hour version. The three-hour version is best to take for those who want to see a lot of wildlife up close. However, for those who might get antsy, the two-hour version would work best.
- The tour runs on an unpredictable bumpy road. Those who might have problems with this fact should probably not book the tour.
- Everyone on tour needs to be able to walk independently.